OKI weighs on the impact of financing the infrastructure bill

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CINCINNATI – For nearly two decades, Mark Policinski struggled to find the money to build a complementary span for the overcrowded and aging Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River, which is a major route for commercial truck traffic in the United States. United.


What would you like to know

  • OKI’s Mark Policinski Called the $ 1.2 Trillion Biparty Infrastructure Bill a ‘Game Changer’
  • A federal agency, OKI has the final say on all federal dollars spent in the region on surface transportation projects
  • With funding approved, construction of the complementary Brent Spence Bridge could begin by the end of 2023
  • OKI has a list of $ 12 billion of projects for the region in its 2050 metro transportation plan

With the recent passage of a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill by Congress, Policinski’s frustration is finally giving way to hope. Bill, he said, is a “game changer.”

“It is high time that Washington, DC stood up for this country’s infrastructure,” he said. “There has been a lot of talk over the years about how Washington is going to do a lot more for roads and bridges. I mean, Trump wanted to put in place a trillion dollar plan. Obama wanted to have a trillion dollar plan. Well, now we finally have this trillion dollar plan.

Policinski is CEO of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI), which works with communities in eight counties to advocate for federal funding to support local and interstate projects. OKI has final authority over all federal dollars spent on surface transportation in the region.

Throughout Policinski’s long tenure at OKI, how to pay for another bridge over I-75 from downtown Cincinnati to Covington, Ky. Has been a problem. Built in 1963, the Brent Spence has seen its traffic increase dramatically over the decades and is one of the worst trucking bottlenecks in the country.

The Brent Spence Bridge is a vital corridor for the region and the nation. It is a critical part of the supply chain that we have been hearing about for a few months.

Addressing the bridge is a lasting “top priority” for elected leaders in the region. But there was never the funding needed to make the project feasible. The most recent estimates of the cost of constructing an additional bridge total approximately $ 2.5 billion.

“Right now the (federal government) is investing 20% ​​of the cost of a project. That means the federal government is going to invest half a billion, and residents and states have to provide $ 2 billion,” Policinski said. “If the federal government invests a lot more than that, say 80%, then those numbers reverse and it becomes much more doable.”

The additional funding could be vital for the new bridge being built after years of debate. One of the sources of funding discussed in the past was the use of tolls, which met with strong opposition from “very, very powerful people,” Policinski said.

“If the federal share increases, the need for tolls decreases. So we hope Washington feels so moved (by the enforcement) that it gets its fair share, which is actually around 80%,” “a- he added.

OKI is cautiously optimistic that construction of the bridge could begin at the end of 2023.

“One thing about a project that’s been dragging on for 20 years is that the design is about 90% ready to go,” Policinski said. “The environmental impact studies have been carried out. will be. Some design elements may change, but we’re not starting from scratch. “

However, the area’s transportation needs extend far beyond this bridge connecting downtown Cincinnati to Covington, Ky. There’s the Western Hills Viaduct, the emerging corridors in Butler County, and the interchange near the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) that Policinski frankly said “needs to be totally redone.”

Ohio roads carry the third highest volume of freight in the country. They also represent the sixth highest number of kilometers traveled by vehicles, making them “an essential tool in the national economy”, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Travel times have increased 5.7% statewide since 2011, and on average, every Ohio driver pays $ 506 a year in fees due to poor road conditions, according to a fact sheet from the White House.

ASCE awarded the state a “C-” for its overall infrastructure, which includes the condition of bridges and roads, but also railways, stormwater systems, broadband reach and Moreover.

OKI has a list of dozens of projects across the tri-state in its OKI 2050 Metro Transportation Plan, a detailed plan to prepare the region for its transportation needs over the next 30 years. The price to pay for these projects is estimated at $ 12 billion.

The projects in the plan are the ones that will receive funding from OKI, which traditionally receives around $ 40 million per year to help make these projects a reality. They expect to receive an additional $ 20 million this year following the passage of the infrastructure bill.

Only projects on OKI’s 2050 list are eligible for funding. The list is fluid, however, and changes as new priorities emerge.

“As the money (for the infrastructure) becomes available, we will modify the plan to incorporate this new income,” Policinski said. “It will be a game-changer.”

The OKI selection process begins at the end of winter and applications are due in June. The decisions of OKI’s board of directors, consisting of 118 members, will be taken in October.

“We will follow our normal process because it is the best in the country according to the FHWA. It just allows more projects to be funded. (Funding the infrastructure bill) won’t change any of the timelines, ”Polcinski said.

In recent years, projects had to fight for limited federal dollars. But passing the infrastructure bill means these projects and dozens more have a realistic chance of becoming real roads, bridges, and other infrastructure in Greater Cincinnati and other communities across the country.

“The bill recognizes the fact that we are in a global economy,” Policinski said. “And in a global economy, how you move goods to, from and around your country, or region, is one of the determinants of whether or not you can compete with other places, including China.

Participants in the signing of the bill in Washington, DC included Jill Meyer, president and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber; and Darryl Haley, CEO of the Cincinnati Metro Bus System.

“The funding provided will make the repair and replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge a reality more than ever,” said Meyer. “It is also the largest federal investment in public transit while funding airports, waterways, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. , charging stations for electric vehicles and broadband and electric infrastructures.

As the money will eventually flow into cities and states across the country, moving from legislation to actual spending takes time. And decisions about where and how these dollars will be distributed are not fully finalized.

Ohio is expected to receive more than $ 12 billion over the next five years for various infrastructure-related upgrades.

Under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the state is expected to receive $ 9.2 billion for federal highway programs and $ 483 million for bridge replacement and repair.

Ohio also has a chance to compete for the $ 12.5 billion Bridge investment program and nearly $ 16 billion in nationwide funding in the bill, which is intended for major projects that could strengthen economic development.

It’s not just roads and bridges either; the state will also receive money to improve things, like weatherization ($ 3.5 billion), water infrastructure ($ 1.4 billion), electric vehicle infrastructure ($ 140 million) , broadband internet ($ 100 million) and cybersecurity ($ 26 million).

There is also discretionary funding that will be distributed among states for projects that need “top-up funding” to become a reality.

“It’s an elaborate process. It won’t be done next month, ”Polcinski said. “If it was a baseball game, someone might say we’re in the first inning, but I’m saying we’re just getting ready for the first pitch.”

Policinski is prohibited from saying which projects can or should receive funding, but he did provide a few examples included in OKI’s 2050 plan.

The projects include the Route 32 corridor in Clermont County, which Policinski has called the region’s “gateway to the east”. He said the region has been booming over the past 15 years and the corridor may need to expand and receive improvements due to continued growth.

Other projects include the “obsolete and overcapacity” I-75 / I-71 and I-275 interchange in Kentucky, which is the route you need to take to get to the airport via the Brent Spence Bridge.

Policinski also mentioned “the immense growth and investment” in Butler County, resulting in a need for new infrastructure.

Some federal infrastructure funding will be given to states, so they can direct it to smaller projects, such as improving access to local businesses and creating safer streets around schools.

Policinski said these community projects are “just as meaningful to those who need them”.

“In most cases, the vast majority of jurisdictions in our region will not seek funding from Washington,” he added. and under existing guidelines and programs. “

Policinski did not want to talk about how other organizations or entities choose to fund their projects, but he said that most of the projects accepted by OKI will receive the funding they have requested. In some cases, they can adjust these numbers if it means they can donate funds to another worthy project.

“If we have a list of projects and realize that if we just had a few more dollars we could fund another viable project, then we will slowly reduce – and I gently insist – the grants to other projects so that we can adapt another project, ”he said.


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